Rutherford: William Van Dresser’s sketchy side in the Texas League

From SABR member Kris Rutherford at Me and Jerome on July 12, 2016:

William Thatcher Van Dresser is far better known in Paris, France, than Paris, Texas. At one time, he was known locally for leaving his footprints on the infield as a member of Paris’ first professional baseball team. But, the Van Dresser’s prints adorning the covers of magazines the reading rooms of tens of thousands of people nationwide in the first half of the 20th century are far more memorable.

William Van Dresser’s, father, Alfred, fought against the Confederacy for almost the duration of the Civil War, ultimately returning to his life as a New York City businessman in late 1864. Something about the South must have intrigued him. After marrying his fellow New York bride in 1868, the couple returned to southward and settled in Memphis, Tennessee. With the city and region still reeling from the effects of the war, the Van Dresser’s had four children in Memphis, including William on October 28, 1871.

As a youngster, William attended the Memphis Military Academy and excelled as an athlete. After graduation, he worked in the city as a clerk for the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railway and later as assistant bookkeeper for I.M. Darnell and Son Lumber Company. At the time, Memphis was known as the “hardwood lumber capital of the world,” benefitting from extensive clearing of acreage across the Mississippi River in the Arkansas Delta region. Whether or not the smell of milled hardwood conjured up memories of his days cracking bats as ball player at Memphis Military Academy isn’t known, but by 1893, Van Dresser had taken to playing semi-pro ball. A year later, he attracted the attention of the Southern Association’s Memphis Giants, but played just six games with the team before it disbanded. The baseball bug had bitten William, and in 1895, he headed for the Texas League.

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Originally published: July 13, 2016. Last Updated: July 13, 2016.